My childhood was full of dogs. And cats. And goldfish. And one very unfortunate guinea pig. I feel so blessed to have had that experience, of growing up with animals.
Yes, if you think about it (and if you do the environmental maths), pets are a horribly selfish middle class extravagance. But they can also be the best teachers, counsellors and friends. They can teach you about unconditional love and pure joy, and about death, and cruelty. They can drag you out of yourself when you want to hide from the world; they can just be there, a warm constant presence, when you need them. Also, they can be ridiculously cute, which counts for a lot in my world.
I can't ever imagine not having a pet, not having a dog.
My first pet that I can sort of maybe remember was a sheep, called Lamby because we were very original with names. I was under six years old, and we lived in a big hippy commune, in a large old house, which was (somewhat incongruously) in a leafy wealthy suburb in Melbourne's inner east. One day someone left the gate open and Lamby got out and was hit by a car. Pretty sure we had roast lamb for dinner that night.
Actually, to be honest, I don't really remember Lamby at all, but there's so many elements of that story I love. How could I not tell it?
My actual first pet memories are all about Jackie, and Julie, and Warragul.
Jackie was a black Kelpie, and I think of her as my first dog. She was patient and gentle and smart, and I find it impossible to think of growing up without her being in the picture. That's her below, on the top left, with a grey muzzle and a spring blossom tucked into her collar.
Along with Jackie I also grew up with Julie, the family cat. We found Julie as a teeny tiny kitten mewing in the lane that ran along the back of our house (we'd moved on from the commune by this stage). She really was the tiniest thing. I remember when we found her, my step-dad was adamant she wasn't going to stay with us. We didn't need another pet, and besides pets were an elitist affront to his socialist / communist politics. Pretty sure within 48 hours he was cooking her special meals and quietly hoping no one would come to claim her.
Then there was Warragul, my dad's dog. Warragul is definitely the most amazing dog that I've ever had the privilege to meet. Warragul was a dingo cross something, maybe some kind of shepherd? He was a beautiful dog, with coarse black and tan hair. He was a bit of a mutt but he was mainly a dingo. He was ridiculously smart, and loyal, and very talkative. He was always a little wild - you'd never try to put a lead on him or take him for a 'walk' in any normal sense of the word. He'd follow you to the park though, because he wanted to, because he was happy to. And he'd tell the whole neighbourhood how happy he was about it as well.
He loved my dad fiercely. Sometimes if Dad went out without him, he'd chase the car for ages hoping we'd stop and pick him up. And sometimes if Dad went out without him he'd go looking for him. He'd turn up at building sites that Dad had worked on months and months before. He'd turn up at friend's houses, 10, 15, 20 kilometres away. He remembered all those places over all that time. Amazing. Sadly I have hardly any photos of Warragul, but you can see him above, in the photo on the bottom left. Handsome fellow.
Later, when I was at an age where I wanted my own space and my own things, I got myself a gorgeous chocolate brown kelpie cross (labrador, I think) from the RSPCA in Burwood. Coco Marley. That's her above, in the bottom right. Just look at those eyes. Coco was the best dog and the worst dog. She meant so very much to me, she saw me through some really tough times. And she forced me to make some really tough decisions, too. If I write much more about her I'll get a wee bit sad, so I'll just direct you here if you want to know more.
Right now we get to share our adventures with Ferdi and Elfi. They are hilarious and handsome and have such distinctive personalities. We love them; they are family. But like all pets do, one day, too soon, they will die. Hopefully they will die peacefully, free of pain and after a long and happy life.
My husband can't bear to even think about it, but I know that day will come. And I know it will be indescribably, horribly sad. But I also know that before too long I'll be itching for a new companion, for another pet in my life. Every pet owner knows that this urge isn't about replacement - each dog or cat (or guinea pig) is so unique the idea of replacement is ridiculous.
Instead, for me, every new pet is a celebration and remembrance of all the dogs and cats (and guinea pigs) that have gone before them. They offer a new friendship that is at once the same and yet always so different; a new bond that forms part of a long bittersweet line.
Jackie enjoying the Victorian Alps with us. Note how Beci is rocking the mom jeans and desert boots, whilst I am rocking the...um...nope, I've got no idea what the f**k I'm wearing either.
ps. When 'researching' this post I came across this Tumblr, which suggests that maybe Communism and pets do mix...
ps. I also realise that I neglected to tell you about my many goldfish (one of which was called Mystic Astro Geek. True Story.). And I didn't tell you about that unfortunate guinea pig either. Next time, okay?
The My... posts are a way to get me writing more throughout 2015. There'll be one a month, each with a different My... prompt. You can play along as well, whenever and wherever you want. This month's prompt (February) is My Pets. Next month's prompt (March) is My Morning Routine. Interpret each prompt however you like - a story or a jumble of thoughts, fact or fiction, personal or not. Don't feel too constrained by the months either, if you like a prompt then have a go. And make sure to let me know if you do join in!